On a regular Wednesday afternoon at William Cullen Bryant High School, one can hear a commotion coming from the upper levels, where sunlight streams into windows atop the high walls. Dozens of boys and girls can be seen running drills and executing takedowns of one another in this spacious room. Mats manage to cover most of the expansive floor, with the recognizable orange of Beat the Streets’ mats present at the fringes. This large, bright room in Queens is almost certainly the biggest wrestling room in all of the five boroughs.
In a city like New York, it can be hard to find room to breathe, let alone tumble, scrap, and grapple. It’s not hard to see why Bryant’s program stands out among NYC schools for having a dedicated wrestling room. This feat was accomplished only through the support of administration, the dedication of head coach Peter Cardone and the hard work of the students whom he has helped to inspire.
Having spent three years as an assistant and a year as head coach, Cardone has been the architect of the wrestling program’s resurrection. In two seasons as head coach, Cardone turned the struggling program around, transforming Bryant from the bottom team in NYC to undefeated league champions.
The list of accomplishments is impressive: Cardone took over a 3-14 program which was about to fold and turned it into a 15-3 team over the course of two years. They boast a number of All City Wrestlers and four NYC Placement Wrestlers. In addition to being undefeated Region 4 Division Champions, Bryant’s Freshman and Sophomore Team is also ranked #1 in the city.
Cardone attributes much of the success to the improved practice facility, which was only possible with the support of school administration. “My principal believed in us,” Cardone said, referring to Bryant’s Principal Namita Dwarka. Not only did she help secure the wrestling room, but Ms. Dwarka also helped to provide new singlets and mats. “I am so lucky to have the administration here. Last year we had a small room with twenty wrestlers, now we have sixty wrestlers, boys alone,” with the girls’ program demonstrating similar growth.
The students who have been present for these exciting changes have benefited strongly from all of the support as well. Dylan Nerich, a sophomore, just picked up the sport last year, but has already proven himself a capable grappler. At the city finals, he defeated the returning City Champion and top seeded wrestler in his weight class, becoming the PSAL 195lb Division 1 champion in NYC. He also testifies to the great personal benefits of wrestling. “Wrestling helped me clear my mind, taught me many different variations of respect, and how to be a hard worker.” Nerich is also familiar with Beat the Streets and plans to attend the tournament on April 16 for Fargo, hoping to make the team.
Feras Zedeia, a junior, has similar praise for the program and the sport. “Wrestling made me stronger and tested my skills…at Bryant, they treat us like a family, especially the coaching staff. I feel like it changed me as an individual.” Zedeia has only been wrestling for a year but already boasts an impressive 25-7 record, having come in fourth in the city. On this particular Wednesday, he was practicing hard in the boys’ off-season. “It’s all about the off-season,” he said, “if you’re dedicated, you train hard.”
Zedeia’s foray into the wrestling world began like many others. Cardone approached him during physical education class and got him interested in the sport. As he learned more about the team and the program, Zedeia wanted to be on top of NYC. This was part of his motivation to come to practice even during the off-season. “That’s how we did it,” he said, referring to Bryant’s season accomplishments, “and that’s why we’re dedicated to win next year.”
Gilbert Rosario won the Freshman/Sophomore PSAL City Championships at the 120lbs weight class this season, which is all the more impressive when one considers he just began wrestling in November. “People always told me I was too weak or little to wrestle, but that motivated me. Also, I have a lot of friends wrestling,” Rosario said. “It’s made me a lot stronger and it’s made me a different person. I feel better when I wrestle.” Rosario also explains that the coaches’ care for the wrestlers has helped him greatly: for instance, when he had a rough start to a season, he dedicated himself to the sport and with their help ended up going 16-7.
Coach Cardone and his staff certainly demonstrate that they are supportive and dedicated to their wrestlers. A native of Massapequa, Long Island, Cardone is assisted by Joseph Weinstein from Plainview, Long Island, and Joe Goetz from New Hyde Park, also on Long Island.
Coach Weinstein, who has been with the program for two years now, runs the girls’ practices. While the girls team is relatively new for the school, Principal Dwarka was extremely supportive and even helped the team by making a new weight room. “Without administrative support we wouldn’t have been so successful,” Weinstein said.
All of the coaches were excited to discuss the positive impact the program has had on students, particularly in the classroom. Several were working hard to bring their grades up and come off of academic probation so that they could compete in tournaments. Some students who were regularly getting suspended straightened out as the sport changed their life. The assistant coaches did a great deal of the work in increasing the scope of Bryant’s wrestling program, doubling the size of the girls program and tripling the size of the boys team.
Coach Goetz also had good things to say about Cardone’s influence. “Pete helped promote the culture of wrestling,” he said. “This was a dying program but from where we’ve started to where Pete has gotten us is tremendous. It’s been a really great ride…the kids love it.”
Weinstein added that it was a nice change of pace to go from “wrestling in a closet” to having a brand new space and being an undefeated team. “We moved from the basement to the penthouse,” he quipped.
The coaches also wanted to offer their thanks to Ken Bigley, Director of Programming at Beat the Streets, for all of his support. The organization has offered a great deal of assistance with practices and equipment, even delivering new girls wrestling singlets to their Wednesday practice. Beat the Streets is glad to have had a hand in promoting the culture of wrestling at Bryant High School. Our thanks to Principal Dwarka and Coaches Cardone, Goetz, and Weinstein for helping us accomplish our mission of making NYC kids confident, healthy, and college-ready!